We at TSNN can probably speak for a lot of event industry professionals when we say “good riddance 2021!” with perhaps more gusto than in past years (other than the dumpster fire that was 2020, of course). While many of us are likely feeling cautiously optimistic about our industry’s recovery given the global health challenges we still face, in the U.S., in-person trade shows have been steadily making a comeback, attendees and exhibitors are wanting to meet face-to-face again, organizations are hiring in droves, and industry professionals are striking a tone of optimism that we haven’t heard since before the pandemic. All this, bolstered by the fact that shows and venues have proven that face-to-face events can be held safely by adhering to strict health and safety protocols, and 2022 may just turn out to be a year of strong recovery…we hope.
TSNN had the chance to ask several industry leaders what they predict for the exhibitions industry in 2022. Here’s what they believe we can expect to see in the year ahead.
In 2022, I predict that the exhibitions and events industry will continue doing everything it can to move our recovery from the pandemic forward by successfully executing face-to-face shows. We, as an industry, have adjusted our processes to do our best to ensure the utmost safety for our attendees and exhibitors while keeping a close watch on ongoing developments. While no one can truly predict or guarantee what the coming year will bring, I do know that we are optimistic and determined to get our industry where it needs to be as quickly as possible.
Nancy Walsh, President, North America, Informa Markets:
I feel strongly that the exhibition and events industry will rebound significantly in 2022, but that it will also evolve to better meet customer needs in a post-pandemic era. We are already seeing exceptional rebook rates for 2022 shows, and I think the hybridization of those shows with digital complements is a natural evolution.
We piloted what we are calling “Smart Events” this year and will be launching more Smart Events in 2022. Those offer a virtual wrap-around to an in-person event that includes pre-show discovery and planning, digital registration and on-site digital access, data capture and post-show analysis. We’re really offering our customers the experience they’ve come to expect in their day-to-day lives—the option to participate virtually from wherever they are in the world, to connect and discover year-round, and the opportunity for live participants to research buyers and suppliers pre-show to make the most of their experience onsite. A multi-channel approach that leverages the value of physical platforms complemented by digital solutions that create multiple touchpoints for connection and market access throughout the year is the future of our business.
David Audrain, CEO of ExpoDevCo, CEO of SISO:
We are quite optimistic for ExpoDevCo’s events in 2022, sales are progressing well, we are planning to hold all our events we had scheduled for 2022, and we already have a new launch show to add to the portfolio.
From an industry perspective, we are seeing a mixed expectation for 2022 – shows in the U.S. are progressing well, as are shows in the UAE. Shows in Europe were moving forward before the Omicron variant pushed some countries to go back into various forms of lock-down. So the first quarter of 2022 is seeing many cancellations or postponements again in Europe. But most are optimistic that the rest of the year can see shows moving forward as planned. China was doing very well in the second half of 2020 and first half of 2021, then saw a number of lockdowns reintroduced. The hope there is that after the Winter Olympics, we will see a rapid reopening of cities for events. I believe we will see a vast majority of the industry operating most shows at some level in 2022.
Carina Bauer, CEO, IMEX Group:
I’m probably more bullish than most because the IMEX team and I have just come off a very successful 10th edition of IMEX America, and we’re still on a high from how good it felt to be back in the room and in business with thousands of our community from all over the world.
I genuinely think the industry’s prospects are good. They need to be slow, steady and meaningful but confidence is needed right now. I also see the demand for face-to-face growing and the term “hybrid” falling away as we learn to simply produce a good event across multiple channels, regardless of what those channels are.
Many planners, like IMEX, now know how to produce a safe, comfortable F2F event experience, and at-scale. Of course, it takes focus, commitment and flexibility but let’s not forget, our industry needs to get back on its feet so that it can make an absolutely critical contribution to widespread economic recovery. If we get consistency, clarity and support from our political leaders, then 2022 will start strong. Our experience at IMEX America showed there’s enormous pent-up demand, but it needs to be released, albeit under carefully controlled conditions.
Casandra Matej, President & CEO, Visit Orlando:
This year has been the start of a recovery for our entire industry. Current research trends show that full recovery to pre-pandemic levels will not return until 2024. Here in Orlando, we are optimistic, and our entire destination is working fast and furiously to make that happen and in some market segments as soon as 2022. Orlando has been a leader in the meetings industry throughout the recovery, hosting more than 170 events and welcoming more than one million visitors at the Orange County Convention Center alone through the end of 2021. As we move forward, it is our job to not only continue to build confidence in our attendees and visitors, but also showcase the incredible and memorable experiences that only our destination can provide.
Bob Priest-Heck, CEO, Freeman:
The last 20 months have been challenging, to say the least, for the events industry. However, as we move into 2022, we have so much opportunity ahead of us, and I like to say, “It’s not about going back; it’s about moving forward.” 2022 will be about quality over quantity. We’re returning to live events, as we saw in 2021, but there are certain areas and trends where we need to focus on the quality, in order to make those experiences matter for the exhibitors and the attendees.
First, because of the pandemic, we’ve become more homebodies and also tend to be more cautious about travel. It’s important to make attendees feel comfortable and that they have control. We’re all experts now at online shopping, food ordering and digital entertainment, and we’ve become digital connoisseurs who expect flawless experiences. This will translate over to the events where demand for a high-quality experience will not only be expected but also demanded.
For the first time since the pandemic, data is showing great news for flight booking recovery in some regions across the globe. While people are eager to get back to in-person, most are staying closer to home through domestic flights, which surpassed 2019 volumes in March and continue to grow. We need to rethink global events to better target and reach a newly regionalized audience. We can use this as an opportunity to build more focused and targeted messaging and networking, while also building more sustainable events by reducing air travel and offering virtual options.
Josh Hotsenpiller, Founder and CEO, JUNO:
I see three trends for 2022. The first one is going to be creativity because we still don’t know what the future’s going to look like. We’ve seen wonderful creativity over the last 18–24 months, and it’s not going to stop. Let’s resolve to continue to innovate, to solve global problems and local problems, and connectivity problems.
I predict creative solutions, outside-of-the-box ideas, pushing the envelope to allow people to really understand what the future looks like. Look for people across society, in all industries, to be creative problem-solvers. We resolve to push the boundaries right alongside our clients.
Secondly, I think community is going to take on a whole new meaning. People that didn’t see each other all that often are now seeing each other regularly on video. And while digital will never replace physical, it’s an incredible enhancement. I’ve made so many new friends over the last 18–24 months where we connected on video, then finally met in person, and it was only enhanced. So I think community marketing and community engagement as a tool for advancing business objectives is only going to grow.
The third trend I predict is mass consolidation, both in companies and in customer spends. I think we are going to see people realizing they don’t need to spend all this money on multiple pieces of tech and learn multiple tools. We’re going to see new tech, new sales strategies, new on-site solutions. And it’s the creative community solutions that I think will win in the consolidation story in 2022.
Michelle Mason, President and CEO, ASAE:
I see the events industry continuing to bounce back in a big way in 2022, incorporating many of the lessons we learned during the pandemic. So you will see thoughtful, tech-forward, hybrid solutions that include in-person opportunities to connect safely but that are adaptable to any ongoing uncertainties that could complicate a large-scale, traditional face-to-face event.
With associations and other meetings-dependent organizations continuing to think creatively about their events, there are opportunities to reach a wider audience and satisfy some of the pent-up demand for learning, connecting and community that professionals want and need to be successful.
Steve Moster, President and CEO, Viad; President, GES:
I am optimistic and energized about the future for our businesses and industry. Live events are a critical part of the global economy, and because of the pandemic over the two years, there is a lot of pent-up demand and momentum for experiences. The value created from face-to-face live events is irreplaceable, as it is a powerful way to generate sales and drive brand awareness and loyalty. We see a bright future for GES’ business and the industry, as we plan to resume the regular cadence of event schedules in 2022.
Vaibhav Jain, CEO, Hubilo:
The pandemic made us realize the limitations and inflexibility of physical events, so in the post-pandemic world where everyone continues to be concerned about health and safety, it’s a no-brainer that hybrid and virtual events are the future. We see these five trends emerging for 2022:
1. The metaverse will change expectations for event experiences, as it is here to stay, whether we accept it or not. We will see the acceleration of events as a more significant form of digital content that people want to engage with.
2. Experiential events will be their own distinct channel for people to participate in for a variety of event formats—not only for traditional conferences but also for sporting events, concerts, fashion and cooking shows, film festivals, political rallies and much more.
3. Asynchronous is in. Traditional boundaries of time and place are out. People will attend events when they want, how they want and for the content they want.
4. DIY Events. More people will plan events because they have the tools, technology and expertise in one place.
5. Social activism will be fueled by virtual event tech. It’s not just the digital fluency of Gen Z supporting the rise of social activism through virtual events. It’s also the data-driven nature of political campaigns bolstering the claim that social activism has a digital foothold and will gain strength across virtual event platforms.